An Asian ‘super-grid’ ?
Japanese group hopes Mongolia can act as Desertec of Asia
March 13, 2012
An Asian ‘super-grid’ bringing wind and solar energy from Mongolia to Japan could help to speed up the region’s adoption of renewables, say researchers.
The Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF), set up last year following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, is pushing for changes to Japanese law that will allow the country to import electricity from abroad.
In the long-term, JREF wants the national grids of Japan, Mongolia, Russia, China and Korea to be connected, with high-voltage transmission lines sending solar and wind power produced in Mongolia to power-hungry cities in Japan, Korea and China.
The vision, outlined in Tokyo within the past few days, shares similar goals with Europe’s Desertec project, which aims to export solar power from the deserts of North Africa to the Mediterranean region.
In a first step, JREF has started work on a pilot project to transfer 1GW of electricity from Busan in South Korea to Kitakyushu in Japan, roughly 250km away.
It is not yet clear if the electricity will come from renewable sources. Korea relies largely on imported energy but it has plans to build offshore wind farms, says Shuta Mano, senior researcher for policy innovation at JREF.
The project will also require Japan to open its electricity network to foreign suppliers, a key step in bringing power from countries further away, he adds.
“It’s a completely new idea for Japan’s electricity system to connect with another country. If we can show that this is possible then we can continue to connect with other nations too,” Mano tells Recharge.
Bringing electricity from Mongolia, which is much further away from Japan, will require a far bigger investment in transmission lines – as well as co-operation with China and other countries.
JREF has signed a memorandum of understanding with Mongolia’s National Renewable Energy Centre to collaborate on a study of the country’s renewable resources.
The Gobi Desert, covering much of southern Mongolia, is said to be the third-largest potential source of solar energy in the world. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) previously estimated that Mongolia could support 1,100GW of installed wind power capacity. However, it is only starting to build its first wind farms.
JREF is also collaborating with the Desertec Foundation to share knowledge on the international transmission of renewable energy.
Ultra-high-voltage (UHV) transmission lines, running at 800kV or more, allow for large quantities of electricity to be transmitted down a single line. When the UHV power is in direct current (DC), it can go vast distances without losses.
The technology is already being used in China, which has plans to have six UHV lines by 2015. However building such lines to Japan are expected to face opposition from Japan’s powerful fisheries, says Mano.
JREF is hoping that international projects will speed up restructuring of Japan’s electricity grid, helping to improve uptake of renewable energy generated domestically too.
“If we have international discussions on importing electricity, this will bring pressure to change our electricity system. That is important,” says Mano.